My imaginary 2014 Hall of Fame ballot   Leave a comment

This is it, folks.  The end of my Cooperstown series for the 2014 voting period.  I’ve probably written more words this year on the matter than any, and I’m pretty happy about that.  If you just stumbled upon this post without reading any of the ones that preceded it, I strongly encourage you to do so, and you can just click on any of them.  In order, they are:

An introduction
A comparative exercise
A brief explanation of the process

The catchers
The first basemen
The second basemen
The shortstops
The third basemen

The left fielders
The right fielders

The pitchers

My goal, my theme, this year was to use Bill James’ Win Shares data, based on two of the books he published in the early 2000s.  I’m not going to lie – some of it is pretty dry.  Nonetheless, the work James put into devising a formula to quantify the overall skills of any and every individual MLB player made his book Win Shares a must-read.  There are a lot of charts, and tables, that sort the players by position, by year, by offensive and defensive contribution, and other criteria.  Again, if you like that sort of stuff, you should try to find the book.

When it came out over a decade ago, his top ten players – the top ten Win Share earners – were as follows:

Babe Ruth, 756
Ty Cobb, 722
Honus Wagner, 655
Hank Aaron, 643
Willie Mays, 642
Cy Young, 634
Tris Speaker, 630
Stan Musial, 604
Eddie Collins, 574
Mickey Mantle, 565

As far as lists go, ranking the best major league baseball players that ever lived, this is a damn good list.  If this is strictly the result of using the Win Share (WS) formula, well, I think it’s worth using as a tool.  Granted, the math is his, and there might be parts that you don’t agree with – and that’s perfectly fine.  Nor would I consider WS to be the only or ultimate method of sabermetric analysis.  Many other people have designed their own systems for measuring output and ranking players, then and now.

But I like Win Shares, and I wanted to use them to help me decide who I would put on my 2014 Cooperstown ballot, assuming I had one.  Unfortunately, I only had my “old” books, and I could not find any information that would show the current WS total for the numerous candidates on the BBWAA ballot.  That is, until just a couple of days ago.  Bill Gilbert has done exactly what I wanted to do, and he published an article that ranked those candidates with the WS method.  That article can be found here.  Without further ado, here are the WS rankings of the 22 players I looked at over the last couple of weeks.

Position Win Shares
Barry Bonds LF 661
Roger Clemens SP 421
Craig Biggio 2B 411
Frank Thomas 1B 405
Greg Maddux SP 398
Rafael Palmeiro 1B 394
Tim Raines LF 390
Jeff Bagwell 1B 387
Mark McGwire 1B 342
Jeff Kent 2B 338
Fred McGriff 1B 326
Alan Trammell SS 318
Tom Glavine SP 314
Sammy Sosa RF 311
Mike Piazza C 309
Larry Walker RF 307
Edgar Martinez 3B 305
Mike Mussina SP 270
Don Mattingly 1B 263
Curt Schilling SP 227
Jack Morris SP 225
Lee Smith RP 198

There is no magical Win Share number for voters.  Generally speaking, 300 is a good number to reach; 400 is a number only the very best residents of Cooperstown have hit, and as such, any eligible player hitting that total should feel confident about enshrinement .  There are some Hall of Famers below that mark, some non-HoFers above it, and getting to 300 Win Shares seems to be more difficult if you are a pitcher.  I’m glad I found Gilbert’s article; with the various “baseball card” statistics to choose from, the advanced metrics available at sites such as baseball-reference and wargraphs, and using James’ theorems and opinions, I feel like I’m as ready as I’m ever going to be to fill out my ballot.  Some of the questions I used?  Glad you asked.

Who is the best player of his generation not currently in the Hall of Fame?
Who is the best player at his position not in the Hall?
Who is the best new player on the ballot?
How does he compare statistically to the other Hall of Famers at his position?
Was he the dominant player of his era, and/or at his position?

I crunched the numbers, asked myself those questions, and came up with the following ballot.  Listed alphabetically, my ballot includes these ten men.

Position Win Shares WAR (b-r) WAR7 JAWS Career OPS+ ERA+
Jeff Bagwell 1B 387 79.5 48.2 63.8 149
Barry Bonds LF 661 162.5 72.8 117.7 182
Roger Clemens SP 421 140.3 66.3 103.3 143
Tom Glavine SP 314 81.4 44.3 62.9 118
Greg Maddux SP 398 106.8 56.3 81.6 132
Mike Piazza C 309 59.2 43.1 51.1 143
Tim Raines LF 390 69.1 42.2 55.6 123
Frank Thomas 1B 405 73.6 45.3 59.5 156
Alan Trammell SS 318 70.3 44.6 57.5 110
Larry Walker RF 307 72.6 44.6 58.6 141

Bagwell:  one of the ten greatest first basemen ever.  A five-tool infielder that was a dominating player during his era whose basic statistics, Win Share total, WAR, WAR7, and JAWS figures all put him ahead of the “average” Hall of Fame first baseman.

Bonds:  ranks third all-time in Win Shares.  He is one of the best players who ever lived (I say begrudgingly, because I hated him on the field).  Something to consider about the Hall – it is not only a shrine to the greatest players of all-time, it is also a museum.  Many of his belongings are already in there; I don’t feel the need to exclude the plaque he deserves.  Besides, you can write whatever you want on that plaque, too.  This is a personal opinion, and one that has changed over the years.  I used to think that the PED posse should not get that one last day in the sun, but in the end, he – and all of them – are just men, some of whom bear flaws that we know about, some we do not.  And if you do believe that the current voting process is similarly damaged (and I do as well), a great way to put pressure on it is to induct Bonds, and have him make his speech in front of thousands of people and the peers who have said publicly – some, at least – that they will not share the stage with any player who allegedly use performance-enhancing drugs.

Clemens:  seven Cy Young awards.  You can take my Bonds diatribe above, and use it here as well.

Glavine:  a 300-game winner in the five-man rotation era.  Note the yellow number in his table row; it indicates that his WAR7 was below the average Cooperstown chucker.  Otherwise, his other numbers are above average – impressive, given the 300-inning, 40-start-a-year hurlers that came before him.  Not overpowering, but consistently excellent for a long time.

Maddux:  only seven men won more games than he did, and the youngest of that lot was born in 1921.  There is no good reason why Maddux shouldn’t receive 100% of the BBWAA vote, but he will not… a few blank ballots will be sent in, and a couple of other voters will go with the “Bath Ruth wasn’t a unanimous selection, so no one should be” argument.  An all-time great.

Piazza:  one of the ten greatest catchers ever.  Ranks just about dead-even with Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench as the best-hitting catchers by WAR, and he wasn’t that bad with the glove; he didn’t have a great throwing arm, but he didn’t play in a steal-happy era, either.  Piazza will earn a few more votes this year, but he won’t get in – which is a shame, because he certainly deserves it.

Raines: arguably the second-greatest leadoff man of all-time, and the best eligible left fielder not in the Hall.  Raines has made significant progress moving up the ballot in the last couple of years, but I fear his momentum will be slowed by the newcomers on this and next year’s ballot (which will include Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, and Gary Sheffield).  He ranks above the average Hall of Fame left fielder in WAR, WAR7, and JAWS; of the seven hitters listed on my ballot, he ranks third in Win Shares.  A sentimental favorite, to be sure, but also a legitimate Hall of Famer.

Thomas:  one of the most dominant hitters of his era.  In his first 11 years in the American League – including his abbreviated rookie campaign in 1990 – the “Big Hurt” averaged 31 home runs, 108 runs batted in, and a slash line of .321/.440/.579, with an OPS+ of 169.  Though he did spend most of his time as a designated hitter, he did also play almost 1,000 games at first base, so that should satisfy most of the “DH isn’t a position” voters.

Trammell:  put up WAR / WAR7 / JAWS totals that rank him ahead of the average Hall of Fame shortstop.  There is no eligible 20th century shortstop with better totals in any of those three categories; his WAR puts him a hair behind no-doubter Derek Jeter, and a hair above HoFers Barry Larkin, Ernie Banks, and many other residents of Cooperstown.  Unfortunately for Trammell, his peers Cal Ripken and Robin Yount were that much greater.  In a way, the lifelong Tiger is similar to Duke Snider, who played in the same city, at the same time, and at the same position as a couple of guys named Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.  It took Snider 11 tries to get into Cooperstown.  Trammell is on the ballot for his 13th time, and he is not going in with the writers’ help.  I wish that he, and Lou Whitaker a decade earlier, got the same support as their teammate Jack Morris received over the years.

Walker:  no right fielder has a higher WAR or JAWS total than Walker that isn’t in Cooperstown, and the only right fielder that had a better WAR7 was Shoeless Joe Jackson.  He was a five-tool player who won three batting titles, slugged .565 for his career, and won seven Gold Gloves.  Perhaps I’m showing my Expos bias here, but Walker was one of the best players in baseball for a decade, whose only issue was staying healthy.  That said, he did play almost 2,000 big league games, and over 1,700 games in right, so I would say that that qualifies as a distinguished career.

I’ll name another player that had a long and distinguished career – Craig Biggio.  In fact, he played over five full seasons’ worth of games more than Walker, and ranks 16th all-time in the games played department.  He tallied over 3,000 hits, over 1,800 runs, and over 400 steals, and if I had room for 11 people on my ballot, he’d be on it.  However, in my opinion, Walker was the superior player.  Despite the shorter career, I thought Walker had a more impactful one, and if you had to take one of them, in their prime, it would be the right fielder.  I suppose my tie-breaking criteria here was this:  Walker is the best retired right fielder that isn’t in Cooperstown, whereas I would argue that Biggio is not the best retired second baseman in the Hall (I would look to Lou Whitaker or Bobby Grich first).  Is it fair to Biggio that the BBWAA voters completely overlooked the men I just mentioned?  Absolutely not.  But I only had room for ten names.

Bonds and Clemens.  Maddux and Glavine.  Piazza and Walker.  Bagwell and the Big Hurt.  Trammell and Raines.

frank-thomas

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Posted January 7, 2014 by JasonMacAskill in Uncategorized

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